When a teacher’s testimonial was a political act
by John Harrison.

(Previously published in the Institute of Local and Family History Newsletter in July 2006)

When a teacher’s testimonial was a political act

One of the turning points in the development of Chorley as a town was its emergence from a subservient role within the parish of Croston to become a parish “in its own right.” Chorley did not achieve the status of being a separate parish until 1793.

The 1824 Baines Directory described Croston as a village with 1367 persons, whilst Chorley, was a market town, with 1359 houses and a population almost 7 times larger than Croston.
In the last quarter of the Eighteenth century, the Rector of Croston, Rev. Robert Master, was the titular head of the established church in Croston, Rufford and Chorley, although in reality the day to day affairs of the established Church in Chorley were looked after by the perpetual curate. Snape has described England’s parishes in the eighteenth century as “more than just providers of public worship, being the basic units of local government, both civil and ecclesiastical.” Addy in his analysis of 1778 Visitation information, characterised the majority of Anglican Clergy as lacking “a sense of missionary zeal, preferring the leisurely pace, status and cohesion of a rural cure.” Parishes in Lancashire were large, often managed by pluralistic, ill-qualified, poorly paid, absentee clergy. The virulent anti-Catholic Samuel Peploe, who was Vicar of Preston and later Bishop of Chester in the first half of the century, had argued that “the larger size of many parishes meant that those who lived in them either would not or could not come to church but attended Catholic services instead.” Modern historiography has been less critical of the established church. “Much of recent scholarship, whilst not denying the existence of abuses and anomalies, has presented a more optimistic picture of these churches as relatively benign, if rather ramshackle, institutions doing a reasonable job within the parameters of contemporary expectations.”

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The Master family may not have been totally typical of this disparaging picture as Robert Master served as a local magistrate, but it will be seen later that there was a concern to perpetuate the dynasty and its connections by providing livings for the sons as well as marrying off a daughter to a baronet. Rev. Oliver Cooper, the Perpetual Curate, claimed to “reside constantly”, and earned about £40 per annum. (Addy described Lancashire livings as being poor, with curates earning between £40-50 per annum .) Whether the Anglican church in Chorley at this time was ineffective in its mission to parishioners is difficult to prove. However in 1778 Reverend Cooper did not bemoan the fall-off in attendance and support that was found in other Chester Diocese parishes in the Visitation returns, and it could be argued with some confidence that the applications for enlargement of the church were as likely to be aimed at accommodating the ordinary parishioners in their increasing numbers, as meeting self-aggrandisement needs of social aspirants.
The relative weakness of the Perpetual Curate was seen when he attempted to dismiss his parish clerk, only to have his decision over-turned by the Bishop of Chester. Cooper had further cause for complaint in 1776 when he observed that the Catholic Lords of the Manor had ensured that, following the enclosure of the commons, land had been put aside for the benefit of Catholic clergy, whilst he had not benefited.

The Reverend Streynsham Master and His Wife, Margaret of Croston, Lancashire.
by Arthur Devis
Harris Museum & Art Gallery
Date painted: 1743–1744
Oil on canvas, 103 x 121 cm
Collection: Harris Museum & Art Gallery
photo credit to:
Harris Museum & Art Gallery and Bridgeman Art Library

By the late eighteenth century there were signs of tension in the relationship with Croston. In his response to the 1778 Visitation, the Perpetual Curate wrote, “I may be permitted to complain of an injury done to me by the Rector of Croston…but the oppression and injustice alluded to happened 12 or 13 years ago, I will not presume without your lordship’s indulgence to represent the disagreeable particulars of it.” Appeals to the Rector for the enlargement of the parish church were rebutted , and Rev. Cooper in his response to the Bishop’s Visitation of 1778 refers to this opposition in the context of an enlargement proposal from “Lady Standish, Sir Frank Standish baronet and 16 gentlemen and tradesmen…at their own expense.” The Perpetual Curate wrote
“A considerable number of my parishioners absent themselves from church on the lord’s day principally for want of seat room…………Those that decline attendance are most of them poor persons and their number increases as the town increases which of late is much more than usual.”
The Rector’s opposition would undoubtedly been in part to do with widening the disparity between Chorley and Croston, and the fear that this could have been the thin edge of a wedge leading to a split in his parish. Undoubtedly his position would not have been as strong if the Standishes had been Lords of the Manor.

The Vestry meeting in 1775 which agreed to submit the proposal to enlarge the chapel was the first to be recorded in the Vestry Minute book and the minute described St. Lawrence’s chapel as ‘’too small and insufficient.’’ In the preamble to the 1793 Act which created a separate parish and was procured by the Rector, it was stated that the people of Chorley “cannot at any time with conveniency repair to the parish church of Croston by reason of their remote distance from the same, and of the inundations of waters happening in these parts.”
It is interesting that on the next occasion when a major issue arose with the Rector, a different approach was made, outside the structure of the Parish Vestry. The issue may well appear to be less important, but the response of the key figures in the town show that there were greater political issues at stake.
The headteacher at the Grammar School had died. Oliver Holding, who had taught at the school “for several preceding years”, had applied for the job. The Grammar School was run by a charitable trust and the sole trustee was the Reverend Robert Master, Rector of Croston. Whether the Rector had proposed a particular appointment is not known. However the dispute over the Grammar School caused Rev. Master to threaten to replace the Curate with an unintelligible Welshman , so they must have had a difference of views!
Such was the concern in the town to support Oliver Holding, that 61 of the leading figures signed a testimonial recommending Holding to Rev. Master as “a proper person” to succeed the previous postholder.

Copy of the testimonial held at
the Lancashire County Record Office

The size of the testimonial is impressive in itself, and its breadth is even more impressive, including (although he was a minor) Thomas Gillibrand, Lord of half the manor, (and at least 6 of his tenants) as well the Chadwicks and Abraham Crompton Jnr. who were also both significant landowners and non Anglicans. The first three names were Catholics, and possibly 15% of the supporters of the testimonial were Catholics reflecting their proportion in the local population, but generally the names came from across the religious spectrum, and whilst there are “gentlemen” and “yeomen”, there are many representatives of the commercial economy of the town with textile dealers and manufacturers, a tobacconist, a banker and brewer, a surgeon, and woollen and linen drapers. 23% of the names have not been identified by reference to wills, land tax proprietors, directories or involvement with the Vestry. They will have been drawn from families in lower, and possibly non-Anglican strata in the community.
It is equally interesting to note who was not included on the testimonial. Thomas Weld, the owner of the other half of the manor lived in Dorset, and Oliver Cooper’s absence was probably for fear of his job. However the absence from the testimonial of the remaining leading landowners, Brooke of Astley Hall, Crosse of Shaw Hill and Standish of Duxbury Hall indicates that there may well have been a split in views, and the leading Anglican landowners did not wish to be seen to be part of such an overtly political action, They probably saw that their interest was best maintained through the status quo and not undermining existing authority, in this case the Rector of Croston as trustee of Chorley Grammar School.

Whilst Oliver Holding may well have been professionally esteemed in Chorley, this testimonial should be seen as a political document, asserting the interest a powerful section within Chorley against an external authority, in this case the Rector of Croston. As such, it was of huge importance, activating, engaging and unifying so many key figures in the town to an unprecedented degree.
The influence of the traditional authority in Chorley was under threat from other developments in this period. The catholic lords of the manor were on the wane through absence, minority and non-procreation, whilst other non-feudal powerbases grew stronger.
For example, John Wesley preached in Chorley in 1780 and a Wesleyan Chapel was opened in 1792. The same year saw a second Independent Chapel. Both chapels probably had more popular appeal than the original dissenter chapel and provided additional competition for the Church of England.
The power and influence of the Unitarian Crompton’s, who lived at Chorley Hall, would appear to have continued to grow at this time, with both Abraham Crompton Senior and his nephew, Abraham Crompton, involved with the Vestry and the latter becoming a Justice of the Peace in 1787. For the previous 13 years, Chorley’s local magistrate had been, the Rector of Croston, Rev. Robert Master.

The Rector will no doubt also have recognised that increasingly, textile related businessmen were a power in themselves. During a period of economic depression in 1788 “the Spinners of Cotton Yarns and Manufacturers of Callicoes and Muslins” in the township and surrounding area petitioned the Lords of the Privy Council for Trade about the undercutting price policies of imports by the East India Company. The 28 signatures represented a mixture of producers, putters out and merchants, some of whom were active in the Vestry.
It may have been a reflection of these various changes in the town that there appeared to be disagreement over the appointment of churchwardens in 1792. The Vestry minute of the annual meeting shows a line through the original appointees, almost as if the minute was written before the decision, and an additional meeting was called the following week to reverse the decision.
However when the breech with Croston was engineered, the 1793 Act creating a separate parish of Chorley was promoted by Rev. Master. He may have recognised that the town, politically, economically, and socially had outgrown its ties to Croston .However the breech should not be seen as an admission of defeat and the loss of influence and power by Rev. Master. If anything it was a strategic action, dealing with the whole parish of Croston, enabling family “empire building”, as he divided “his benefice into three portions, the advowsons of which he bequeathed to his three sons”. As a consequence his descendants ran the parish of St. Lawrence in Chorley for nearly 100 years.
As the town already had a burgeoning textiles and commercial market, turnpike links to the wider world, and had its local governmental affairs overseen by the Vestry, the breech may well have been most important for its symbolism, recognising change that was already happening, rather than an event which in itself lead to changes in Chorley.



1. Baines Lancashire Directory. 1824.
2. Snape, M.F., 2003. The Church of England in Industrialising Society: The Lancashire Parish of Whalley in the 18th Century. Woodbridge. 25.
3. Walton, John K, 1987. Lancashire, A Social History, 1558-1939. Manchester. 95.
4. Green, Paul G. 1996. Samuel Peploe and the Idealogy of Anti-Catholicism among the Anglican Clergy in Early Hanoverian England in Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire. Vol. 145 (1996). 75.
5. Hempton, David. 2002. “Enlightenent and Faith” in Langford, Paul (Ed.) The Eighteenth Century. Oxford. 82.
6. Addy, J., “Bishop Porteus’ Visitation of the Diocese of Chester, 1778” in Northern History, xiii, 1977. 198.
7. Will of Elizabeth Master of Croston, Widow. Probate 14 June 1803. (LCRO Ref. WCW).
8. Letter from the Bishop of Chester to the Minister of the Parish of Chorley. 1778. In DDX 1861 Box 13. LCRO.
9. Addy. Op. Cit. 180.
10. Heyes, Jim, 1994. A History of Chorley. Preston. 32.
11. Ibid. 70.
12. Letter from the Bishop of Chester. Op. Cit.
13. Chorley Vestry Minutes 29 August 1775. DDX 1861. Accession 9352 Box 1. LCRO.
14. Birtill, George. 1968. The Church on the Brow: St. Lawrence’s, Chorley. Chorley. 33.
15. Letter from the Bishop of Chester. Op. Cit.
16. 1793 Act Geo. 111 Cap. XXIV. “An Act for separating the Chapels of Chorley and Rufford from the Parish of Croston, in the County of Lancaster, and for making them Two distinct Parish Churches.”
17. Birtill. Op. Cit. 19, and Heyes. Op. Cit. 119.
18. Testimonial to the Reverend Doctor Master. DDX 1861. Box 5. LCRO.
19. Heyes. Op. Cit. 142.
20. Heyes. Op. Cit. 143.
21. Chorley Guardian. 25th March 1933.
22. 1793 Act Op. Cit.
23. Master, Rev. George Streynsham. 1874. Some Notices of the Family of Master. London. 26.
(footnote added Jul 2010)
Text Copyright John E Harrison 2008